Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 10, 2023

REVIEW: South Mountain Concert, "Wu Han & Friends"

South Mountain Concerts, Pittsfield, MA 
October 8, 2023 
by Michael J. Moran 

Taiwanese-American pianist Wu Han, Co-Artistic Director (with her husband, cellist David Finckel) of the NYC-based Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, was accompanied by Finckel, violinist Paul Huang, and violist Paul Neubauer for a varied program of three Romantic works in a concert dedicated to pianist Menahem Pressler (1923-2023), who appeared here over 50 times. 

Wu Han photo by LisaMarie Mazzucco
The program opened with an ebullient account of Beethoven’s eighth sonata for violin and piano. Though written when he was first becoming aware of his growing deafness in 1802, the music is among the composer’s sunniest pieces. Huang’s silken violin and Wu Han’s dynamic pianism yielded a joyful and vigorous “Allegro assai,” a gently ruminative “Tempo di Minuetto,” and a jubilant closing “Allegro vivace.”       

Next came a glowing performance by Huang, Wu Han, and Finckel (who is also the founding cellist of the Emerson String Quartet, heard here last month) of the seldom played first piano trio by Saint-Saens, written in 1864, when the precocious French master was approaching artistic maturity in his late 20s. A rustic “Allegro vivace,” a solemn “Andante,” a folklike “Scherzo. Presto,” and a glittering “Allegro” finale featured nimble technique by Huang, cascading finger work from Wu Han, and rich-toned expressiveness by Finckel. 

Neubauer’s viola added a dark and opulent color to the mellow sound of his three colleagues when he joined them to close the program with a brilliant reading of the second piano quartet by Brahms. Written simultaneously in 1861 with the more popular first piano quartet, the second is longer (45-50 minutes) and less showy than its sibling, but just as full of melodic invention. A spacious “Allegro non troppo,” a ravishing “Poco adagio,” a relaxed “Scherzo-Trio,” and a rhythmic, Hungarian-flavored “Finale. Allegro” all made for compelling listening. 

Pairing the 33-year-old Huang with three seasoned veterans several decades older brought an intergenerational spark to the afternoon’s music-making, with Huang’s youthful energy enriching the long experience of his seniors and the passion for teaching and mentoring younger musicians that all three have practiced throughout their careers. 

This venerable Sunday afternoon concert series of chamber music performed by world-class ensembles concludes its 2023 season on October 15 with a concert by the Dover String Quartet.